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Politics


Arlington's naysayer-in-chief is now its chair. Will she move the county forward?

Two years ago, Libby Garvey was the lone voice on the Arlington County Board opposing most of the county's major capital projects. On January 1, she was elected the board's chair.


Garvey. Image from Arlington County.

Garvey has spent most of the last two years being most vocal about what she was against. We're familiar with her opposition to the controversial Columbia Pike and Crystal City streetcar, but that was only the most visible such campaign.

The streetcar represented a compromise among unattainable ideals. Metro is too expensive to build under Columbia Pike, and a dedicated bus or rail lane is not physically possible. Yet the street is reaching the limit of what more and larger buses could achieve, making some higher-capacity transit solution necessary.

Not being able to offer high speeds, however, made the project's costs look less worthwhile, and Garvey led the fight against the project, even going to Richmond to try to talk Virginia officials out of sending state money to Arlington County.

This was always about much more than the streetcar

Garvey's opposition fit into a broader backlash against the Democratic Party establishment in Arlington. A disaffected group including Peter Rousselot, a former county party chairman who formed the anti-streetcar group, Garvey, and John Vihstadt attacked the county board's actions and spending, sometimes fairly, sometimes deceptively.

Some residents were frustrated with ways the county government had been unresponsive and non-transparent. Others wanted to see a more conservative shift amid a period of economic difficulty, where sequestration and BRAC cut incomes and removed federal jobs.

Rousselot, later joined by Garvey, waged a campaign against county spending with high-profile projects like the Artisphere in Rosslyn or an aquatic center in Long Bridge Park. The streetcar was the biggest fight, and Rousselot's group won over some voters who genuinely didn't support it after weighing the pros and cons, but also fooled many others with impractical comparisons to imaginary, unrealistic "alternatives."

What's next, for Garvey and for Arlington?

A year after the county board suddenly reversed course and canceled the streetcar, the county's current vision is drastically less ambitious than it was five or ten years ago. The only ideas for transportation in Garvey's public statements thus far are small-scale bus improvements like letting people pay the fare before boarding and having signals give them more green time—potentially valuable, certainly, but ultimately likely to have minor impact at best on Columbia Pike's and Crystal City's transit capacity needs.

Garvey has also started criticizing county officials for not moving faster to implement these, even though it was clear when the streetcar was canceled that it would take time to replace a transportation project decades in the making.

A big part of the reason for choosing rail, with its concomitant costs, was to drive significant new development to Columbia Pike, to make it the next booming corridor like (though somewhat more modest than) Rosslyn-Ballston. The plan also used the revenue from this development to pay for large quantities of new and preserved affordable housing.

People can debate whether the streetcar would have done this, or that the reason it's not happening now isn't because of the economy instead, but right now the idea that Columbia Pike will ignite into the county's next big growth area (while protecting lower-income residents) seems distant.

The rhetoric from Arlington used to be one of great vision—that Arlington could grow substantially without adding traffic, could use transit to enormously improve people's mobility and reduce car dependence, and could provide first-class public services to make the county a top place to live. Now the talk at the county board is mostly about customer service, civic participation, and sign regulations—again, all valuable, to be sure, but without big ideas.

It's not just Arlington. There has been a similar trend in many jurisdictions around the region to shrink our ambition and work on little things. But this isn't the kind of thinking that propelled Arlington to transform itself when Metro arrived.

Garvey gains an opponent

Perhaps the coming year will offer opportunities for Arlingtonians to choose a vision once more. Planning Commission member Erik Gutshall has announced he will challenge Garvey for the Democratic nomination in June.

Gutshall said he wants "to engage our community in a forward-looking vision for Arlington." We can look forward to hearing more about what kind of vision he might have in mind. Meanwhile, Garvey will have a few months to start articulating some vision of her own.

It's always easier to criticize the work of others than to get something done yourself. Denouncing the county's work from the sidelines helped Garvey get into office and elect some allies. This year will be a chance for her to demonstrate she can also lead—or have this turn at the chair be her last.

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Transit


Why monorail pods are not a serious solution for Columbia Pike

The designers of a monorail-like personal rapid transit (PRT) system hope to sell their technology to Arlington, to replace the cancelled Columbia Pike streetcar. It's a terrible idea.


America's most successful PRT system, in Morgantown, WV. Photo by Jen & Elwood on Flickr.

PRT tries to combine the best aspects of private automobiles and public transportation. It uses car-sized pods that each carry just a few people at a time. Passengers arrive at a station and, rather than wait for a bus or train headed their way, they hail a pod-car. The pod-car then carries them to their destination via an elevated monorail track. Theoretically the PRT pods do this without stopping at intermediate stations.

PRT advocates say it provides point-to-point transit, meaning it goes everywhere a car can go, since, theoretically, a city could build elevated lanes atop any street.

It's a compelling theory, which is why it's been kicking around the periphery of the transit planning industry since at least the early 1970s.

Unfortunately it doesn't work very well. It turns out that combining the convenience of personal cars with the efficiency of mass transit results in something that's neither convenient nor efficient.

PRT is less convenient than cars

The basic idea of PRT is to build an elevated lane for special pod-cars that can only drive on that lane. The pod-cars could run on wheels or tracks, but the key characteristic is a small vehicle on its own elevated lane.

Meanwhile, the great thing about personal automobiles is that you can drive one anywhere there's a road. PRT and transit both compromise that convenience by only offering service along routes, or PRT tracks.

In theory, PRT compensates for that inherent inconvenience by offering a dedicated elevated lane that can whiz pod-cars by faster than shared road lanes. But dedicated, elevated lanes are inherently expensive to build. Much more expensive than a normal surface street.

That means that unless we are willing to build an expensive duplicate infrastructure of new elevated lanes over every street in Arlington, by definition PRT cannot go everywhere roads can go. In turn, that means we have to prioritize the most important streets and design routes that carry people along only the most important paths.

In other words, we have to build a transit network.

And since elevated tracks are expensive, we can only build PRT on the most important, high-ridership corridors. Which brings up another problem:

It's all about transit capacity

What happens when the new pod-car lane fills up?

PRT advocates like to show pretty renderings of little pod-cars whizzing over highway traffic without a care in the world. Those pictures rely on an assumption of low ridership. If more people rode the pod-cars, there would have to be either more pod-cars (leading to pod-car traffic jams), or much bigger pod-cars (ie buses for the pod-car lane).

PRT doesn't change the basic math of congestion. One commuter takes up the same amount of physical space in a PRT pod-car as he or she would take up in a personal car, bus, or train. So by definition, PRT's capacity is lower than transit, simply because PRT uses small vehicles.

And since we can only afford to build PRT in corridors with heavy transit demand, that means PRT's low capacity is a real problem.

Theoretically PRT compensates for its low vehicle capacity in two ways, compared to buses: By running more pod-cars more often, and by giving its small vehicles their own elevated lane, which moves faster than buses on surface streets.

But on Columbia Pike buses already come extremely frequently at peak times. At that ridership level, smaller vehicles that come more often are not practical. The number of passengers on the line simply requires bigger vehicles.

Meanwhile, elevated lanes are great. But transit can have its own lane too. And transit on a dedicated elevated track will always have higher capacity than PRT.

So if Arlington is going to go to the trouble and expense of building a new elevated track atop Columbia Pike, why settle for low-capacity PRT? At that point, go ahead and make it elevated light rail. Columbia Pike is already long and straight and perfectly suited for that kind of high capacity transit in the first place.

Also, a lot of transit users on Columbia Pike are transferring to or from Metro. One Metro train unloading at the Pentagon could easily have hundreds of people waiting to board a PRT pod, which would lead to huge delays for those passengers and the system overall.

This is the inherent problem of PRT, and is why there are so few examples of it in the world: We can only afford to build elevated tracks on high-demand corridors, but on high-demand corridors, we need the capacity of transit.

We already know what the good solutions are

Of course, PRT is impractical since elevated lanes are expensive. But it's interesting to note that there is already a transit system on Columbia Pike today that does sort of accomplish the same goals as PRT: Capital Bikeshare.


Capital Bikeshare stations in the vicinity of Columbia Pike. Image from Capital Bikeshare.

Of course, Capital Bikeshare doesn't run automated pod-cars along dedicated elevated lanes. Instead, it runs manual-powered bikes along surface bike lanes. But in many ways, it's a low-tech and low-cost PRT system.

And Capital Bikeshare is great. We should have more of it. But it hasn't eliminated the need for transit on Columbia Pike.

Kudos for thinking outside the box, but let's move on

It's been nearly a year since the Arlington County Board canceled the Columbia Pike streetcar. Arlington residents are justifiably upset that there's still no solid Plan B. Given the county government's slow progress, residents deserve credit for thinking outside the box, and being open to new ideas.

Sometimes new ideas even prove worthwhile. The idea of a Georgetown gondola elicited eye-rolls at first, but people seem to be warming to it as Georgetown's unique set of issues come into focus.

Even CaBi was a bit of a risk, but the program has worked because it fills a gap in demand for transportation around town for certain types of trips. But the issues on Columbia Pike are not the same issues that PRT or CaBi can solve.

Just being an out of the box idea doesn't automatically make something smart. Often, such ideas have failed to take hold specifically because they're impractical. Moreover, proposals like this can muddle conversations that have already been plagued with confusion and misinformation that led to the demise of the streetcar program in the first place.

That's the case with PRT.

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Pedestrians


Arlington just got a new bridge and sidewalks, but light poles sprout from the middle of the old ones nearby

Freedmen's Bridge, which carries Washington Boulevard over Columbia Pike near the Pentagon in Arlington, was just rebuilt. So was its underpass. The sidewalks are wider now, but a few obstacles make using them difficult.


All photos by the author.

The new bridge is wider, longer and more attractive than the old one. It has a light well between its east and westbound lanes, and for westbound traffic there is a longer acceleration/deceleration lane between its ramps, which makes it easier to merge onto Washington Boulevard. The project also includes a new 10-foot shared use path along Columbia Pike where it passes under the bridge.

Also, to make room for a streetcar in the future, clearance under the bridge is now 16'8".


Base image from Google Maps.

Today, VDOT will host a ceremony with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe to dedicate the project.

While the new, wide sidewalks on part of Columbia Pike are nice, flaws in both the project design and the road just beyond it make them hard to use for anyone walking on the street.


New, wider sidewalks along Columbia Pike.

One problem is that just beyond the area where work was done, there are still lightpoles in the middle of very narrow sidewalks. These force anyone in a wheelchair off the sidewalk and they create hazards for cyclists. Though these sidewalks will likely be improved and widened in the future, they're a barrier for the time being.


A telephone pole blocks the sidewalk just past the project area.

A more troubling issue is the pedestrian lights along Columbia Pike. The lights to cross one of the Washington Boulevard ramps only turn green when someone activates them. That means that to cross, you have to first get to the intersection, then push a button, and then wait for the green light. And this will have to be done three times in each direction. This makes navigating the area very time-consuming. It's also confusing to see a green light in the road but a red light for the sidewalk.

Also, people on foot or bike on the south side of Columbia Pike have to first cross Queen Street diagonally and then back across the Washington Boulevard ramp; in other words, continuing straight is a two-intersection maneuver that could require waiting two light cycles to get to a destination that's 25 feet away.

Few cyclists are going to choose such an inconvenient route along the sidewalk, rendering the path useless for them.


If you're using the sidewalk go east on Columbia Pike near the bridge, you've got to do some extra crossing to stay straight.


A Columbia Pike crossing at the new Freedman's bridge.


The bridge's eastbound underpass.

The new underpass is better than the old one, but it's unfortunate that space could not be found for a real bike facility and that it was designed with light cycles that inconvenience pedestrians so much.

A version of this post originally ran on TheWashCycle.

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Transit


Ask GGW: Now that the streetcar isn't happening, why aren't there bigger buses on Columbia Pike?

Columbia Pike is one of the most heavily-traveled transit corridors in the area. A streetcar there is no longer a transportation option, but that only highlights the need for a solution for current and future congestion.


Photo by WMATA.

Reader Brandon Shaw wants to know why there are only standard buses on Columbia Pike as opposed to articulated buses, which are longer and can carry more passengers:

Why aren't there articulated buses on Columbia Pike? My understanding is that replacing the current 40 foot buses with 60 foot buses would have a 50% increase in passenger capacity.
Ryan Arnold wrote a post in 2012, when Arlington first solicited comments on the option to replace the streetcar with articulated buses, that tackled the streetcar vs. articulated bus debate. He emphasized that articulated buses are appropriate in many areas but don't accomplish the same goals as streetcars.

In Columbia Pike's case, streetcars were favorable because Arlington's main goal was to transform the corridor from a suburban commercial strip into a dense, mixed-use neighborhood.

But with that option off the table, is it possible that articulated buses are the next-best thing?

The Columbia Pike routes, also known as Pike Ride, are a combined Arlington Transit (ART) and Metrobus service on Columbia Pike that consists of three main Metrobus lines, two MetroExtra routes, and three individual ART routes. All of these buses are operated with standard buses (vehicles with a length of 35 to 42 feet).

Standard buses are enough if bus service is what Arlington is sticking to

Currently, there is no demand for articulated buses on this line. As Metro planned it years ago, standard buses are enough to provide the service and frequency desired.

Chris Slatt mentions that Arlington Transit staff are moving forward with streetcar alternatives by conducting a study that's part of Arlington's revamp of their Transit Development Plan.

There's not enough space to store articulated buses

Metrobus stores their articulated buses in three bus divisions (garages), and none of them are in Virginia. At one time, the Four Mile Run division, which runs the Columbia Pike Metrobus routes (16 Line), stored articulated buses. But the garage was renovated to store their current fleet of compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.


The 2010 Metrobus Fleet Management Plan showing Metrobus fleet at the end of June 2009. Only two articulated buses were assigned to the Four Mile Run division. Image from WMATA.

A new Metrobus garage is scheduled to open in 2016 in Fairfax County, replacing the Royal Street division in Alexandria. The new Cinder Bed Road division will store about 160 buses, but there are no plans to store articulated buses.

Articulated buses are more expensive

Canaan Merchant points to possible maintenance issues with using articulated buses on Columbia Pike saying, "the road at present would deteriorate faster due to the excess weight and wear and tear".

Articulated buses currently in revenue service by Metrobus have a maximum life cycle of 12 years before they need to be replaced. Standard buses, on the other hand, have a maximum life cycle of 15 years. A number of standard buses that are about 7.5 years old have gone through a "mid-cycle refresh" or rehabilitation in order to keep them running their full life cycle. Only six articulated buses have been rehabbed and a number of them are planned to be replaced by a new order later in 2015.


A Metrobus articulated bus that is scheduled to be replaced in the near future.Image from Robbieraeful on Wikipedia Commons.

The long maintenance bays needed to service articulated buses could be restored or added to the Four Mile Run division in the future, however there are no plans or funding in place.

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Transit


To replace Columbia Pike streetcar, Vihstadt proposes Circulator bus

Arlington County Board member John Vihstadt, whose opposition to the Columbia Pike streetcar proved decisive in Arlington's decision to cancel that project, now proposes "Circulator-type buses" instead. Only one problem: Bus service on Columbia Pike is already better than DC Circulator.


There are already multiple special bus brands on Columbia Pike.

Vihstadt's suggestion to emulate the Circulator came last week during community discussions to develop a post-streetcar plan for Columbia Pike. Residents said progress since Arlington cancelled the line has been too slow, and in response Vihstadt suggested a Circulator-type bus as an interim measure until something more can get up and running.

Though many associate the word with bus services in DC and Baltimore, a "circulator" is just a type of transit service (not necessarily a bus) that provides frequent service for short trips, mainly within downtown or the urban core. If Vihstadt is specifically referring to the DC Circulator, what would that actually accomplish?

Vihstadt's proposal is for something Columbia Pike already has

There are two main differences between Circulator buses and regular Metrobuses: DC Circulator comes every 10 minutes, and it has its own brand aimed at making the system easy to use. Neither of those would be a big step in fixing Columbia Pike's transit conundrum.

Buses on Columbia Pike are already scheduled to arrive every two minutes, and the PikeRide brand has been around for years, telling riders bus service on Columbia Pike is unique. WMATA does something similar with the REX bus along Route 1 in Fairfax and Alexandria.

Arlington could request that Metro paint PikeRide buses in a brighter color, like in the past, or add a uniquely-branded ART bus route in addition to the many that already run up and down the Pike. But that would do nothing to solve the chronic overcrowding and bus bunching that PikeRide buses already face.

Copying DC's Circulator buses might offer one slight improvement to Columbia Pike beyond what's already there: The inside of Circulator buses have fewer seats, to make it easier for passengers who aren't going very far to hop on and off more quickly. That would add a tiny amount of new capacity to the corridor.

But we don't even know if that is what Mr. Vihstadt meant by "Circulator-like," and changes to Columbia Pike's bus system would likely be minimal.

A Circulator on Columbia Pike wouldn't address Columbia Pike's actual problems. It's not a replacement for streetcar, and it's not the kind of streetcar-comparable BRT that Vihstadt promised in his campaign. It's even a step down from articulated buses.

Vihstadt and the rest of the Arlington County Board have promised communities along Columbia Pike a real solution. Flippant comments proposing something that already exists is less than the bare minimum to meet that promise.

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Development


Modern streetcar planning in the region, visualized

This week we looked at streetcar planning in Anacostia, H Street and Benning Road, and Northern Virginia. To help visualize this evolution, here's an illustration of how and when all of these plans have changed over the last 20 years.

Slideshow image


March, 1997: A Transportation Vision, Strategy, and Action Plan for the Nation's Capital
Proposed three streetcar routes (and one crosstown Metro line).


April, 1999: WMATA Transit Service Expansion Plan
Identified three possible streetcar lines among a multitude of future transit projects.


August, 1999: Crystal City / Potomac Yard Area Transportation Study
Proposed a streetcar for the transit corridor.


January, 2002: DC Transit Development Study (WMATA)
Identified four possible streetcar corridors and initiated the study of a starter line in Anacostia.


February, 2003: Columbia Pike Transit Initiative
Proposed streetcar service as an alternative for the corridor.


March, 2003: Crystal City / Potomac Yard Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis
Selected Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) over streetcar for the corridor.


October, 2005: District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis
Proposed four streetcar lines. Construction started on Anacostia Demonstration Project.


June, 2008: District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis (2008 Update)
Modified proposed streetcar network. Construction of H Street/Benning Road line begins and the Anacostia line gets realigned.


October, 2009: District of Columbia Transit Improvements Alternatives Analysis (2010 Update)
Proposed a 37-mile, 8-line streetcar network.


July, 2011: Route 1 Corridor Streetcar Conversion Project
Study of converting transit corridor to streetcar initiated.


June, 2012: 22-Mile Priority Streetcar System
Focus of DC Streetcar efforts scaled down to three lines; Anacostia line truncated.


October, 2014: 8.2-Mile Streetcar System
Focus of DC Streetcar efforts scaled down to two lines amid funding cuts.


November, 2014: Arlington Cancels Streetcar Projects
Both Columbia Pike and Crystal City / Potomac Yard streetcar efforts indefinitely suspended.


March, 2015: New Administration Commits to One Line
Mayor Bowser commits to completing the H Street/Benning Road streetcar line. Future lines remain uncertain.

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Transit


A history of streetcar planning in Northern Virginia

Yesterday we looked at the evolution of streetcar proposals in the District. Here's how Northern Virginia's two modern-day efforts unfolded.

Alternatives Analysis/Environmental Assessment from May 2012. Image from the Pike Transit Initiative.

Columbia Pike

Out of desire to revitalize one of its major corridors, Arlington County began the Columbia Pike Initiative in 2001. The project pointed out a need for better transit, and in February 2003 the county began the Columbia Pike Transit Initiative, a formal study of the possibilities.

After an April 2006 study of different transit modes, streetcars emerged as the best choice for Columbia Pike.

Arlington formally committed to a streetcar plan in March 2009, and an environmental study for the project followed. The county confirmed its plans in 2012 after a second alternatives analysis also recommended streetcar as the preferred mode. The state of Virginia committed funds in July of last year.

But by November, voter opposition to the project had grown, due in part to major holdups in the District's streetcar plan. After elections in the fall, the project went onto the shelf.

The board of supervisors from Fairfax County, a partner in the project, called the decision to end it short-sighted and disappointing.

Crystal City/Potomac Yard

Arlington and Alexandria have been working together on a transit service for the Potomac Yard development since 1999. At first, streetcars got serious consideration, but a bus rapid transit (BRT) system won out as the preferred mode for the corridor because of cost concerns.

The cities did not fully rule out streetcars on the corridor at this point, though. As construction of the BRT system neared, Arlington and Alexandria agreed to begin a study on converting the system for streetcar use in the future as the corridor developed. Arlington started its part of the study in July 2011, but Alexandria put its part off until a later date.

In December 2012, when Arlington started seeking federal funds for the project, Alexandria pulled out altogether, focusing its efforts on the Potomac Yard Metro infill station project.

Arlington halted its study of streetcar conversion in Crystal City when the Columbia Pike project got suspended. The first phase of Metroway, the BRT system for the corridor, had opened for service two months prior, in August.

Further developments around the Metroway should be complete later this year.

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Transit


Expand a highway to get a sidewalk? How about just build the sidewalk.

Maryland highway planners say four new interchanges on Route 29 in eastern Montgomery County will cut congestion, improve pedestrian and bicycle safety, and make it easier to build bus rapid transit. But the designs they've proposed would actually make all three of those things worse.


One of four proposed interchanges along Route 29 in Montgomery County, with north on the right side. Image from the Maryland State Highway Administration.

For decades, Maryland highway planners have been trying to turn Route 29 between New Hampshire Avenue in Montgomery County and I-70 in Howard County into a freeway. They recently unveiled new designs for a $128 million interchange at Route 29 and Fairland and Musgrove roads, just south of the Intercounty Connector. Today, both roads intersect Route 29, also known as Columbia Pike, at separate stoplights.

Under the state's proposal, Musgrove Road would become a dead end street on the west side of Route 29, while on-ramps and off-ramps would connect the east side of 29 to its northbound lanes. Fairland Road would go from four lanes to six and only have access to 29 going south.

If the project gets funding, construction could get underway in 2018.

Maryland has already built interchanges along Route 29 in Howard County and in Montgomery County at Cherry Hill Road, Briggs Chaney Road, and Route 198. In 2002, plans to build four more interchanges at Fairland and Musgrove roads, Stewart Lane, Tech Road, and Greencastle Road were put on hold and the focus shifted to the Intercounty Connector. In 2013, then-Governor Martin O'Malley revived the projects.

Better for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit?

Proponents of the Route 29 plan tout its benefits for people walking and riding bikes. They note that the plan includes a shared-use path along 29, new bike lanes on Fairland Road, and filled in sidewalk gaps on Musgrove Road.

Meanwhile, acting Montgomery County DOT head Al Roshdieh says building the interchanges planned for the 29 corridor are necessary for the bus rapid transit line the county wants to put in there.

But accommodating people on foot, bikes, and transit shouldn't be an excuse to build more highway interchanges that simply dump more cars on Maryland's roads. In fact, dumping more cars on the roads will only make traffic worse in the long term.

More roads mean more car traffic

The amount of driving on all of Montgomery County's state highways has remained steady for over 10 years even as the population has grown by 100,000 people. But even though Route 29 is one of those highways, its traffic has increased 10% since 2006.


A family tries to cross Route 29 in White Oak. Photo by the author.

Part of that is because of new development further north in Howard County, whose residents drive on 29 to jobs in Montgomery and DC. But it's also because of the three other interchanges that Route 29 gained over the last decade.

Research shows that building more roads in an effort to cut congestion is actually counterproductive. The roads eventually just fill with more cars as drivers use the new road space to drive more or longer distances than they used to.

Meanwhile, the interchange will create more congestion by taking away local connections. Today, drivers on Musgrove and Fairland can directly turn onto Route 29 to go either north or south. But with an interchange, everyone will have to go to Musgrove to go north on Route 29, or go to Fairland to head south, putting more traffic on both roads. Making Musgrove a dead-end on the west side of 29 also pushes more east-west trips onto Fairland or Cherry Hill Road.

Another interchange will simply make it easier to speed down Route 29 from points north. But there isn't any room to widen Route 29 or build more interchanges further south, meaning drivers will end up at the same existing bottlenecks in Four Corners, downtown Silver Spring, and in the District. Speeding people through the area also undermines Montgomery County's efforts to create town centers in White Oak and Burtonsville.

What should we do instead?

The bottom line is that if you want to reduce congestion on Route 29, you've got to get people out of their cars and on to something else. The current plan doesn't do that. So what's the alternative?

In Montgomery County's annual transportation priorities letter to state officials, county councilmembers ranked a bus rapid transit line on Route 29 as a higher priority than the interchanges on Route 29. This is a reversal from previous years.

County planners estimate that a BRT line on 29 between Silver Spring and Burtonsville would cost just $351 million, compared to $472 million for the four new interchanges proposed on Route 29.


BRT can be cheaper and way less disruptive than more interchanges. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Not only is transit cheaper than turning Route 29 into a highway, it is easier to build and ultimately more effective. We can fit bus lanes in the median of Route 29 north of New Hampshire Avenue without building any more interchanges or widening cross streets.

Transit gives drivers an alternative, meaning that car traffic along the corridor may grow much more slowly than it would otherwise. It allows both existing downtowns like Silver Spring and future town centers like White Oak to grow without putting as much pressure on already congested areas.

We don't need interchanges to make it safer for pedestrians or bicyclists either. Filling in sidewalk and bike lane gaps, creating more crosswalks at stoplights, and reducing the speed limit along Route 29 can improve safety without spending nearly as much money.

Route 29 doesn't need to become a freeway

Maryland completed its environmental study for Route 29 in 1995. Since then, the communities along Route 29, and Montgomery County as a whole, have changed.

County residents and companies alike want transit and walkable neighborhoods. Route 29 is now one of the region's busiest bus corridors. Meanwhile, East County neighborhoods are grappling with disinvestment as growth moves out to Howard County.

Turning Route 29 into a freeway might have made sense 20 years ago, but now it's time to reconsider. There are better, cheaper, less disruptive ways to get people where they're going.

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